Do you Know the Way to San José?
Yes. I’m in San José.
No. Not San José, California.
San José, Costa Rica.
Regardless… I can’t seem to kick the incessant and melodious lyrics of Dionne Warwick's “Do you know the way to San José?” No matter what I do, they’re right there, churning in my brain. I stroll along, having my own little sing-song under my mask, “I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose”
Anyway… until I leave this city, I fear it won’t stop…
Perhaps it’s stuck with me for the duration of my trip…
“Fame and fortune is a magnet.
It can pull you far away from home.
With a dream in your heart, you're never alone.
Dreams turn into dust and blow away.
And there you are, without a friend.
You pack your car and ride away.”
Sound about right... anyway… onwards and upwards...
I slept in today. Not all day, of course. Things to do! Places to go! People to see!
But I did take advantage of being horizontal until about 9am… and then I dragged myself downstairs to take advantage of my complimentary bean, brown rice, scrambled eggs and cubed papaya breakfast. I was one of the last to partake, so I got the final sludge of the coffee pot.
After a much overdue shower, I prepared myself to hit the streets of San José! To be honest, I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the idea. I had heard bad things.
Get in and get out. Not much to see here. Don’t waste your time. Not worth it. Dangerous. Watch yourself. Crime-ridden. Irrelevant.
Most guidebooks and online sites caution tourists against venturing into Costa Rica’s capital city, warning against unsightly characters and pickpocketers. Even people that have been here are deterrents.
BUT… then I read;
San José, Costa Rica's vibrant capital, serves as a central base for exploration. You'll likely want to stop here before heading to the country's magnificent rainforests and beaches. Soaring offices, apartment buildings and museums will tower above you as you roam through the city's interconnected barrios (districts). Barrio Amón is popular with tourists for its centuries-old mansions and photo-worthy architecture.
That won me over and off I went, into the San José abyss.
I did decide to leave my good camera at the hotel.
While I was making this decision, a few comparisons went through my mind.
1. My camera is expensive, so I don’t want to risk losing it.
Contradiction: My iPhone 13 is MUCH more expensive if you add it all up.
2. I don't want to lose my camera.
I would MUCH rather lose my camera than my phone. NOT that I want to lose either, but if I had a choice... ? The camera goes...
3. With this camera around my neck, I will stand out.
Well… funny thing. Camera or not, I stood out like a fly on a wedding cake.
I am one of very few tourists here. At least in the city. Perhaps the coasts will be inundated with Americans and Europeans, but highly doubt it. Travel is just not in everyone's wheelhouse right now. I only ran into one other American tourist couple today ~ and that was at a restaurant near my hotel. As I maneuvered my way through the busy streets of Costa Rica, every time I heard the all-too-familiar, “Hey lady!” … I knew it was directed at me.
I wandered down the Avenido Central, the main strip of touristic San Jose, a bustling metropolitan area, surrounded with cultural attractions, historical buildings and bright colours. No one tried to kidnap me… and as far as I can tell, I still have all my belongings.
I was fine.
It’s funny how you just fall back into the ways of Central/South America… You learn to smile graciously at the street vendors, ignore the lotto-sellers and the hecklers, dodge in and out of traffic, watch for out-of-control motorcycles veering towards you, and always keep an eye on the uneven, corroded pavement for fear of toppling over.
I did have a few goals today;
Get a local SIM card for my phone.
Mission accomplished… which is big for me. Usually I just endure the atrocious phone bill when I return back home, but this time, I decided it was time to be much wiser. So as of this afternoon, my regular number is no longer in service, unless I am contacted via Whats App. Try it... it's cool. It's what everyone uses down here and what I usually use when I'm away.
2. Find the fat lady.
Yesterday, en route from the airport, we passed a large statue of a fat lady, who appeared to be mid-song. I made it of utmost importance to find her again today, as nothing seems more fitting than me being on vacation and a fat lady singing.
And found, she was… with quite odd boob placement, don’t you agree?
This is what I found out about the statue...
"The Chola has been the most emblematic woman to remember where we are from, where we have come from and where we are going. It is they who have made it possible for their children to study and get ahead. It is a tribute to Costa Rican women. It is not easy because, for a lifetime, I have thought about how to materialize an idea and a commitment to Costa Rican society," explained Vargas.
3. Figure out my car rental.
I booked a rental vehicle for one month, through Expedia... about 7 months ago and then promptly forgot about it. Recently I have gone back into the booking and attempted to contact the company… to no avail. Even the address is convoluted. They’re strange down here… most addresses are things like "6 metres behind the dive shop," "14 feet east of the casino," "across from Taco Bell," "beside where the old fig tree used to be."
These directions are exceedingly difficult to place on Google Maps.
Determined as all hell, I did my best to pin point a somewhat general location… and off I went. As confusing as it was, and I was, and the whole scenario was... I managed to get there and sort it all out. As of mañana, I am in possession of a white, stick shift 4WD Jeep-looking contraption. Of course, I use the term ‘Jeep’ loosely and for lack of a better term, as I’m not confident on the brand and not in the mood to be called out on my mistake by Jeep fanatics.
It's something... Jeep-like...
Tune in tomorrow, when I explore my ever-increasing insecurity and dread of driving a stick shift out of this insane city… but I figure if 400,000 other people can do it, so can I?
Imma gonna to die.
The worse part is that I have a deadline to adhere to. I am catching a ferry - the last ferry - to Tortuguero tomorrow at 4:30pm. I hardly have time for bumper to bumper, missed turns, going in circles, crying fits, road rage or fender benders.
Oh well… I will survive.
From Avenido Central, I made my way down to Barrio Amón and I loved it there. This is where San José really got vibrant for me. Barrio Amón is one of its oldest neighborhoods, and has recently emerged from a decade of neglect and smothering crime. I read it described as "a sliver of Costa Rica’s urban jungle that’s not to be missed."
I was absolutely enamored with the bright, colourful and dynamic atmosphere. I spent a lot of time wandering the streets here, and took a boatload of photos.
Sadly, I have to admit, I have not yet eaten a very typical Costa Rican meal. Maybe the beans and rice at breakfast??? There was a particular area of the city that boasted street food, and I wanted to go... but I didn’t make it there. While I was in Barrio Amón, I stopped in at a bohemian style, garden cafe, and had pork wonton balls with a jalapeño teriyaki sauce... and a glass of wine! Not exactly Costa Rican local though, I fear.
For dinner, Caprese salad at a quaint Italian restaurant, located directly across from my hotel. I genuinely had not originally planned on going there today, determined to find a local hole in the wall to partake of some fabulous, local grub, BUT there was a sign out front advertising Live Musica at 7pm.
How could I resist?
The live music wasn’t exactly what I expected (or hoped for) …though I should have known better, considering it was a higher end, charming Italian bistro. There were two men playing- one on keyboards… one on fiddle, of all instruments. Very easy listening. As I was leaving, they were jiving out to a musical rendition of "Funiculi, Funicula."
My hotel is ok.
It’s called the Fleur de Lis and it's fairly central. I guess whichever way you look at it, the name either symbolizes Quebec... or a flower. I also was under the mistaken impression it was also a type of venomous snake… but that’s the Fer-de-Lance. The hotel is bright pink and probably the main reason I booked it. From the computer screen, it looked charming, inviting, historical and... cupcake-like.
Each room has a different name and mine is Amapola, which is another flower. I don't have much of a view, unless you take into consideration the metal rooftops of surrounding buildings. My door and door frame don’t align as well as one might suspect, causing the door to rattle quite a lot. It was cause for much concern, until I realized what was happening and got used to it.
So far, according to me, myself and I, my Spanish sucks.
I desperately need practice.
I probably should have done some practice before I came... but alas... no...
I keep jotting down words to reacquaint myself with, as I tend to overuse words I’m familiar with. I’m super coolio on the vino tinto, baño and por favor part… but my conversational Spanish could use some help. I start off strong, but as soon as the person I'm conversing with, responds... I'm out.
I guess I can only go up…
That’s what I tell myself, anyway, but unfortunately, I think it’s code for I can only stay the same.